Pain, Writing and Anxiety: Nerve Endings

It’s now early in the morning of the 6th of January.  Having resurfaced from the swampy fiefdom of my flu-like symptoms, I’ve managed to awaken at 4am, unable to fall back asleep, for the second night this week.  I have a draft due for a piece of writing on my favorite subject – public land! – and yet, as soon as I am allowed a platform with which to work and write and be compensated and published, I shrivel, shrink, and feel my guts pull out small daggers and begin to challenge one another to fight, sniffing one another’s breath for traces of tequila, missteps, foggy hesitation.  I want to throw up, cry, bite through the shell of a cantaloupe and dig into soft orange meat.  (ew)

It’s six in the morning now, I’ve made a pot of coffee and eaten a bowl of leftover sub-par noodles and taken four ibuprofen and one muscle relaxant.  My shoulder hurts, my foot hurts, my wrist hurts, and my brain hurts with the needling, incessant frustration of physical pain.  It’s hard to do anything when you hurt, but it’s also so hard to not do anything when you hurt.  I try to think through my pain when I write, and try to see how the zapping nerve signals between the extremities of my body and my brain relate, translate, interfere, or augment the mysterious electric transfer of mentality into physicality and language into tangible digital object.  Resist, remember, the temptation to separate your body and your brain.  Your brain is your body, and your body is your brain.  They are both interrelated, dependent, and one and the same, containing one of the most fascinating and spectacular un-tangle-able relationships in this world.

Pain is a mirror of writing, and a part of writing, and I love this idea and I live this idea and thinking about it, being it, knowing it, and doing it are inseparable and in this indecipherability I find joy.  If I try and interrogate myself with questions like “where does language lie – in this transfer of thinking into writing” The closest answer I could find is “in my fingers, but always moving.”  The thoughts aren’t words where I can feel them in my head, they’re misty, cloudy fogs, erupting lava, cracking ground, grains pouring like water.  They are untraceable and unnameable and yet they become the act of tracing and naming.

(Althusser murdered his wife.  Where does that lie?).

Pain is nerves sending messages through your spine to your brain.  But, pain lies, and pain misremembers, and pain never forgets.  Pain holds memories like a dog – with hot breath and smell and eternal momentary lapses: moments, in a parade, over and over, forever and ever.  Pain remembers something frightening and hunkers deep down inside a hidden place. And then, when it is touched, it radiates, it fumbles, it sends signals to the wrong parts and the wrong things feel touched when part of you is touched and your body loses a sense of itself because its language is now like talking between ghosts.  Your shoulder mistakes your neck for your arm, your joints don’t know how to move in tandem, your hands become numb because the nerves underneath got confused and started forgetting who was who.  This would never happen to a giraffe.

And then, whats more – the signals go from your foot to your brain.  What’s a signal?  Is pain the communication?  Is it the message?  Is it the alarm?  what happens first?  Do you feel it in your brain or your foot?  How do you tell the difference, and where is your pain being written?  Where does language lie?


There are three things I want to tell you about discomfort.

  1.  The tension when a department store plays a smooth James Blunt track in the middle-aged Sag Harbor ladies sweaters section and just across the aisle where handbags and brass jewelry are messily scattered near bandage dresses there blasts a tinny, florescent, snare fueled, hyper-pop whine of Katy Perry or some such, incessant, marching, flogging – the result is not good.  Don’t worry about enjoying this – in fact, rail against it.  This dehumanizes us and makes us want to cry from the inside of our skulls.  Grow new teeth and fight it.
  2. The discomfort you feel – is it even discomfort? – the question mark that forms in your brow when you hear someone saying something again that just doesn’t … but you don’t know what you’re … when your uncle or some such starts explaining the freeloaders in the welfare state and the troubles of the landlord – when you’re watching the basic cable news and you keep seeing men that look a certain way with mugshots on the screen – listen to that question mark that pushes on your pulse til it speeds up.  Is something not right?  How do you know this?  Is it in your body or your brain?  Your body is reacting and your brain hasn’t quite caught up and it’s okay if you can’t respond yet when your face is flushed – but listen to the sharp breath you want to draw in.  Feel something’s not right, and trust that, and then, later, go investigate.  That discomfort is important, it is tension, and it makes you better.   Don’t ever let someone get away with saying “times have changed.”
  3. When you are reading a novel, or a poem, or a story, and you experience something – that is what poems and novels do.  They produce effects.  So when you experience that knowledge, that realization, pay attention to it.  How did you know you experienced it?  Was it a thought?  Was it in your brain? Was it in your body?  Did you feel it before you knew it?  Poems produces effects.  You experienced one.  It was surprising, electric, the transmittal of pain across two centuries, the transportation of Walt Whitman’s surprising and impish lips to your face, the nerve endings of copied paper tracing ghost upon ghost, trying to signal the bodyless through memory of their brains between people.  Now, you must discover how it was done.  This is the work of literary criticism, but literary criticism is only practice.  This tension is remarkable.  This tension is, in fact, everything.  I suggest you try and live here as long as you can.  Build a small house, a simple cave dwelling or a nest, like that of a harvest mouse, circular, safe from hawks, warm, near flowering thistles.  Linger when possible and don’t forget to breathe.


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